Deep Space Nine: s03 e19 – Through the Looking Glass

A missed opportunity
A missed opportunity

I was all set to declare this a third successive strong episode, and to query if I’d had that experience before in this re-watch, but despite its overall quality, I ended up disappointed in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, for its end and what it did not do and where it didn’t sufficiently go, and what it didn’t ask its two most important actors to approach.

The episode was quick to set itself up. A very brief opening sequence with Quark and Odo was interrupted by the appearance of Miles O’Brien, out of uniform, bearing a gun and kidnapping Commander Sisko. The latter is very quick to realise it isn’t our O’Brien, but rather ‘Smiley’ O’Brien, from the Mirror Universe.

The plot is simple, but its underpinnings aren’t. Terran rebels have risen against the brutal, decadent Klingon/Cardassian Alliance but things have gone badly. A Terran scientist is on Terak Nor (i.e., DS9) developing a new sensor array that will reveal the whereabouts of the Rebel bases in the Badlands, ensuring they will be wiped out. Captain Sisko has been killed trying to get to the scientist and persuade her to change allegiance. Hence Smiley has snatched our Benjamin to complete the mission.

It’s not just Sisko’s leadership qualities that are required, but something more. The scientist is Professor Jennifer Sisko, the Mirror Universe version of Benjamin’s dead wife.

I might as well say this now. This was the most significant part of the scenario as far as I was concerned, bringing Sisko into contact with the wife he still loves, five years after her death, albeit a version of her that has been estranged from, and hates him, for the past five years, and who is actively aiding the opposition. It’s a tangled situation, fraught with deep emotion, and by far the most interesting element. I mean, the rest of the story, entertaining as it was, was largely rooted in the fun of seeing most of the cast playing against type: Bashir the bloodthirsty, wild-haired rebel, Dax as Sisko’s mistress, with a radically different and far more flattering haircut and Nana Visitor having a whale of a time camping it up and slinking around as the super-sexy Intendant, wiggling her hips as far as they could wiggle.

Andrew Robinson, in contrast, demonstrated that the Mirror Universe Garak is light years less interesting than the enigmatic version we have at home.

In the end, Sisko and the rebels persuaded Jennifer to their cause and got away to fight another day, as we knew they would.

But the episode fudged the most important part, that of Sisko’s reunion with the woman he loves, returned from the dead. Sisko is far too in control of himself: unthrown by her hostility towards his alternate version, unmoved by the sight of the woman he loves, brought back from the dead, concerned only with his mission, and far too smooth about leaving her without explaining himself, even after she recognises that he’s not the Sisko she married.

Every emotional beat is downplayed or, worse still, avoided. Felecia Bell is excellent in her part as Jennifer, but she is asked to do too little in the role, not even to display anger or loathing towards ‘Captain Sisko’.

Part of it comes from Avery Brookes’ theatrical, often stilted delivery. His low-key approach to Sisko is antithetical to the role as it should have been written. The part should have involved hidden emotions, tortuous ones, but Brookes his them beyond sight. And the writing abdicated the scenario it had set-up by preferring the easy route of quasi-campish parody and basic thriller routines.

Writing Benjamin and Jennifer would have been hard work. As so many times already, the writers decided not to work their socks off.

In analysing the flaws, I’ve made the episode sound worse than it was. It was still very enjoyable, and a dimension above ‘Prophet Motive’, but it was unambitious. If it couldn’t properly handle the scenario of Sisko and the exact equivalent of his dead wife, it shouldn’t have introduced it at all. It made promises it had no intention of keeping and lets its audience down. Better was offered, then skated round. A solid B+ was delivered when an A multiple plus was dangled, teasingly.

4 thoughts on “Deep Space Nine: s03 e19 – Through the Looking Glass

  1. You hit a good point that the Mirror Universe was more about letting characters play against type and being more action adventure episodes; all in having fun. And these episodes are.

    My local station when rebroadcasting them, skipped over this one for some reason and I didn’t see it until years later, which sort of dampered some of it for me. But was still a fun ride. Rereading the wiki article and others, maybe even bigger than Sisko meeting the Mirror version of his wife was Sisko sleeping with the Mirror Dax not being explored further. Come to think of it Mirror Sisko was a slut, sleeping with his wife, the Intendent and then MIrror Dax, probably among many others…And to some degree I would chalk some of it up to Sisko wanting to stay strong after all these years finally getting over the death of his wife. But you’re right it could’ve added more to the episode…. I also forgot Tuvok was there too…

  2. Yes, Mirror Sisko certainly put it about a bit, but then the inference was that Our Sisko shagged Mirror Dax whilst he was there (not to mention snogging the face off Mirror Kira). That’s not something that I imagine played back into his relationship with Our Universe Dax either.

    1. If you remember from Crossover, he was actually The Intendant’s love toy as well. But that would have been a great psychological angle to play as well between Dax and Sisko, something Sisko didn’t seem to have have any desire for…

  3. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: DS9 was made in a time of very different expectations for TV drama series. Things that would be central elements of contemporary series are just treated as incidentals that the audience won’t have any interest. Even as DS9 was running, series like Hill Street Blues, St Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Streets, were giving the lie to that (though in Homicide’s case in a constant rearguard action against network attempts to strangle that) but SF was still a category of its own, and accorded less respect, especially for its audience.

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